Tag Archives: Frances Hardinge

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

a skinful of shadows

I make no apologies for being a fan of Frances Hardinge, despite being outside the target age range of her novels by a considerable margin.  I loved the Lie Tree, and I loved A Skinful of Shadows¸ too, and I really do think that her novels can be read by old and young alike.

When a creature dies, its spirit can go looking for somewhere to hide.

Some people have space inside them, perfect for hiding.

Makepeace, a courageous girl with a mysterious past, defends herself nightly from the ghosts which try to possess her. Then a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard for a moment.

And now there’s a ghost inside her.

The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, but it may be her only defence in a time of dark suspicion and fear. As the English Civil War erupts, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.

A Skinful of Shadows features Makepeace, the illegitimate daughter of an aristocratic family called the Fellmottes.  Whilst illegitimate children may often be hidden away, out of sight and mind, the Fellmottes take Makepeace in as a maid, as she has inherited their talent (or curse, depending on your perspective) for being able to house ghosts inside her.  With her half-brother, James, Makepeace notices that there is something unusual about some members of the family, and it doesn’t take long for her to discover their secrets.

I won’t go into the plot any more than this, as it would be so easy to give away too much, but I absolutely loved the idea behind the story and the way that Hardinge uses this throughout the novel.  I thought that this was a very neat twist on the classic ghost story, bringing something fresh to the genre.  I didn’t find it particularly scary (it is aimed at younger readers, after all) but it is definitely creepy in places and it is dark enough without being bleak.  I would have loved this story as a child, and I do as an adult, too.

Makepeace is a fascinating character.  She is young, brave, and intelligent, and very easy to cheer on, even though I didn’t always agree with her actions.  I came to the conclusion that she is just a nicer person than I am!  Despite her age, she shows a lot of courage and determination throughout and she will stand up for what she believes in.  She does get a little help along the way from a number of allies (some of them quite surprising!) and I loved that the story went in a different direction to what I was expecting.

A Skinful of Shadows is set at the outset of the English Civil War, and this initially forms a backdrop to the story before Makepeace becomes increasingly caught up in the conflict.  The reasons for the war are touched upon lightly, and I liked that Hardinge did not present one side or the other as being “right” – both sides are represented in the novel, giving a rounded view of the conflict.

Combining historical fiction with fantasy and the supernatural, A Skinful of Shadows is a wonderfully entertaining and enjoyable novel for readers of all ages, and I highly recommend it.

A Skinful of Shadows was published in 2017 by Macmillan and is available in paperback now.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


Holiday Reads – Spain 2016

I’ve spent the last week or so enjoying the sun and sangria in Spain.  This much needed break allowed me to catch up on some reading and to make a little dint into my TBR pile.  Here are the books I read:

after-the-crashAfter the Crash by Michel Bussi

I read Bussi’s Black Water Lilies earlier this year and really enjoyed it.  Shortly before I went away, I noticed that the first of his novels to be translated into English – After the Crash – was on one of Amazon’s many Kindle deals, and couldn’t resist.  And I’m so glad that I didn’t!

After the Crash presents the sole survivor of a plane crash of the French / Swiss border – a three-month old girl.  Two families step forward to claim the child as their own, and the novel focusses on the investigation by a private investigator to determine her identity – an investigation which takes 18 years.

There are multiple twists, and the investigation continually throws up various pieces of evidence to say which family she belongs to, before throwing some counter argument in the way, returning the reader (and the private investigator who has been hired to solve the mystery of the girl’s identity) back to square one.  If, like me at the outset of the novel, you’re wondering why they didn’t just obtain a DNA test, this is incorporated into the novel, and is deftly handled, as is the whole investigation.

the-lie-treeThe Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

I’ve been meaning to read The Lie Tree for some time now, as I had heard great things about it and thought it was an interesting premise.

The Lie Tree is set in Victorian times, and fourteen-year-old protagonist Faith and her family have moved to the fictional island of Vane due to a scandal at home.  Faith isn’t a typical Victorian young lady, and when her father dies in mysterious circumstances, she begins her own investigation, and stumbles across a strange tree that is in her father’s possession – a tree that thrives on darkness and lies, producing fruit when the lie becomes established as fact.  When eaten, the fruit reveals a truth to the person consuming it.

Whilst ostensibly a murder mystery and a coming of age tale, there is much more to The Lie Tree as it examines the roles of men and women in society at the time as well as the impact of Darwinism on Christianity.  Told in the gothic tradition, I found The Lie Tree to be thoroughly enjoyable, and a story that would be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

the-vagrantThe Vagrant by Peter Newman

The Vagrant walks through a land ravaged by war and corruption.  A man with no name, he journeys across a dangerous landscape in order to bring a weapon to the Shining City – last bastion of the human race.  A weapon which may be humanity’s last hope in the ongoing battle.  His journey is a perilous one, and full of people who seek to double-cross him at every turn.

The Vagrant is a wonderfully original fantasy novel with a strong cast of characters – both good and bad.  The Vagrant’s journey is partly hindered by the presence of a baby girl – the identity of whom becomes clearer as the novel progresses – who seems so out of place in the war-torn land.  She is quite possibly the most delightful child in fiction, and never failed to bring a smile to my face. Her presence allows us to see a softer side of the Vagrant, as well as providing additional peril (as he seeks to protect her) and a little comic relief.

A strong debut, and I can’t wait to read the second instalment, The Malice, which was published in May.

armadaArmada by Ernest Cline

Zack Lightman loves science fiction in all its forms – games, novels, films – he laps it all up.  Due to graduate in two months, he daydreams about a more exciting life where something – anything – interesting might happen.

Staring out of window in class one day, he sees an alien spacecraft.  And not just any alien spacecraft.  This alien ship looks remarkably like the ones from his current favourite game, Armada – an online flight simulator in which players protect Earth from an alien invasion.  Initially afraid that he’s lost his mind, he soon comes to realise that it’s real, and that he, and millions of other gamers from around the world, are now required to defend the Earth against alien invaders.

I absolutely loved Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One, and so I was really looking forward to Armada.  I have to say, I was a little disappointed.  Whilst the premise is interesting, there are large sections of info dumps that made the novel difficult to get into.  There are multiple hints throughout that things aren’t quite what they seem which remove any possibility of a successful plot twist and I found the characters to be wooden and under-developed.

american-godsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

Shadow has spent three years in prison, and can’t wait to get back to his wife, Laura.  A few days before his release however, he’s told that his wife and best friend have been killed in a car accident.

His life in pieces, he leaves prison with no plans for the future, so when he runs into the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, he accepts a job as a driver and occasional bodyguard, but soon finds himself caught in the middle of a war he doesn’t fully understand – a war between Gods whose followers brought them to America as they migrated, then abandoned them, and now Shadow has to do what he can to survive.

American Gods is another book that I’ve been meaning to read for ages, but for whatever reason never quite got around to until now.  I’m glad I did though – American Gods is an epic novel which spans multiple genres, and draws heavily from mythology, particularly Norse.  As readers of my blog will know, I’m quite taken with anything that relates to old myths.

American Gods is populated with fascinating and intriguing characters, and big, taciturn Shadow complements the somewhat whimsical gods nicely.  Some characters are more easily recognisable than others, in terms of the gods they represent, and I enjoyed the way that multiple mythologies are interwoven successfully.

I can’t wait to see this brought to life in the TV series that is planned for next year.